Yogananda and the Bhagavad Gita
By Sri Daya Mata
From the Preface to
God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita,
by Paramahansa Yogananda
“No siddha leaves this world without having given some truth to mankind. Every free soul has to shed on others his light of God-realization.” How generously Paramahansa Yogananda fulfilled this obligation! — scriptural words voiced by him early in his world mission. Even if he had left to posterity nothing more than his lectures and writings, he would rightly be ranked as a munificent giver of divine light. And of the literary works that flowed so prolifically from his communion with God, the Bhagavad Gita translation and commentary may well be considered the Guru’s most comprehensive offering — not merely in sheer volume but in its all-embracing thoughts….
Paramahansaji manifested utter mastery of the yoga science of meditation cited by Lord Krishna in the Gita. I often observed how effortlessly he would enter the transcendent state of samadhi; each of us present would be bathed in the ineffable peace and bliss that emanated from his God-communion. By a touch, a word, or even a glance, he could awaken others to a greater awareness of God’s presence, or bestow the experience of superconscious ecstasy on disciples who were in tune.
A passage in the Upanishads tells us: “That sage who has solely engaged himself in drinking the nectar which is no other than Brahman, the nectar which is the outcome of incessant meditation, that sage becomes the greatest of ascetics, paramahansa, and a philosopher free of worldly taint, avadhuta. By the sight of him the whole world becomes consecrated. Even an ignorant man who is devoted to his service becomes liberated.”
Paramahansa Yogananda fit the description of a true guru, a God-realized master; he was a living scripture in wisdom, action, and love for God. As the Gita advocates, his spirit of renunciation and service was one of complete nonattachment to material things and to the acclaim heaped on him by thousands of followers. His indomitable inner strength and spiritual power resided in the sweetest natural humility, in which a self-centered ego found no place to dwell. Even when he made reference to himself and his work, it was without any sense of personal accomplishment. Having attained the ultimate realization of God as the true soul-essence of one’s being, he knew no other identity apart from Him.
In the Gita, the zenith of Krishna’s revelations to Arjuna comes in Chapter XI, the “vision of visions.” The Lord reveals His cosmic form: universes upon universes, inconceivably vast, created and sustained by the infinite omnipotence of Spirit which is simultaneously aware of the tiniest particle of subatomic matter and the cosmic movement of the galactic immensities — of every thought, feeling, and action of every being on the material and heavenly planes of existence.
We witnessed the omnipresence of a guru’s consciousness, and therefore his sphere of spiritual influence, when Paramahansa Yogananda was blessed with a similar universal vision. In June 1948, from late evening throughout the night until about ten o’clock the next morning, a few of us disciples were privileged to glimpse something of this unique experience through his ecstatic description of the cosmic revelation as it unfolded.
That awe-inspiring event foretold that his time on earth was drawing to a close. Soon after this, Paramahansaji began to remain more and more in seclusion in a small ashram in the Mojave Desert, devoting as much as possible of the time that was left to him to completing his writings. Those periods of concentration on the literary message he wished to leave to the world were a privileged time for those of us who could be in his presence. He was completely absorbed, completely at one with the truths he was perceiving within and expressing outwardly. “He came into the yard for a few minutes,” recalled one of the monks working on the grounds around Paramahansaji’s retreat. “There was a look of incalculable remoteness in his eyes, and he said to me: ‘The three worlds are floating in me like bubbles.’ The sheer power radiating from him actually moved me back several steps away from him.”
Another monk, entering the room where Guruji was working, remembers: “The vibration in that room was unbelievable; it was like walking into God.”
“I dictate scriptural interpretations and letters all day,” Paramahansaji wrote to a student during this period, “with eyes closed to the world, but open always in heaven.”
Paramahansaji’s work on his Gita commentary had begun years earlier (a preliminary serialization had started in Self-Realization Fellowship’s magazine in 1932) and was completed during this period in the desert, which included a review of the material that had been written over a period of so many years, clarification and amplification of many points, abbreviation of passages that contained duplication that had been necessary only in serialization for new readers, addition of new inspirations — including many details of yoga’s deeper philosophical concepts that he had not attempted to convey in earlier years to a general audience not yet introduced to the unfolding discoveries in science that have since made the Gita’s cosmology and view of man’s physical, mental, and spiritual makeup much more understandable to the Western mind — all to be literarily prepared for publication in book form.
To help him with the editorial work, Gurudeva relied on Tara Mata (Laurie V. Pratt), a highly advanced disciple who had met him in 1924 and worked with him on his books and other writings at various times for a period of more than twenty-five years. I know without doubt that Paramahansaji would not have allowed this book to be published without due acknowledgment and commendation of the role played by this faithful disciple. “She was a great yogi,” he told me, “who lived many lives hidden away from the world in India. She has come in this life to serve this work.” On many public occasions he expressed his considered evaluation of her literary acumen and philosophical wisdom: “She is the best editor in the country; maybe anywhere. Excepting my great guru, Sri Yukteswar, there is no one with whom I have more enjoyed talking of Indian philosophy than Laurie.”
In the latter years of his life, Paramahansaji also began to train another monastic disciple whom he had chosen to edit his writings: Mrinalini Mata. Gurudeva made clear to all of us the role for which he was preparing her, giving her personal instruction in every aspect of his teachings and in his wishes for the preparation and presentation of his writings and talks.
One day toward the end of his life on earth, he confided: “I am very worried about Laurie. Her health will not permit her to finish the work on my writings.”
Knowing the Guru’s great reliance on Tara Mata, Mrinalini Mata expressed concern: “But Master, who then can do that work?”
Gurudeva replied with quiet finality: “You will do it.”
In the years after Paramahansaji’s mahasamadhi in 1952, Tara Mata was able to continue uninterruptedly the serialization in the magazine of his commentaries on each Bhagavad Gita verse (despite her many time-consuming duties as a member and officer of the Board of Directors and editor-in-chief of all Self-Realization Fellowship publications). However, as Paramahansaji had predicted, she passed away before she could complete the preparation of the Gita manuscript as he had intended. This task then fell on the shoulders of Mrinalini Mata. She is, as Guruji foresaw, the only person after Tara Mata’s passing who could have accomplished it properly, because of her years of training from the Guru and her attunement with the Guru’s thoughts….
Paramahansa Yogananda had a dual role on this earth. His name and activities are uniquely identified with the worldwide organization he founded: Self-Realization Fellowship/ Yogoda Satsanga Society of India; and for those thousands who embrace his SRF/YSS Kriya Yoga teachings, he is their personal guru. But he is also what in Sanskrit is called a jagadguru, a world teacher, whose life and universal message are a source of inspiration and upliftment for many followers of different paths and religions — his spiritual legacy a blessing offered to the entire world.
I recall his last day on earth, March 7, 1952. Gurudeva was very quiet, his consciousness inwardly withdrawn to an even greater extent than usual. Often that day we disciples observed that his eyes were not focused on this finite world, but rather were gazing into the transcendent realm of God’s presence. When he spoke at all, it was in terms of great affection, appreciation, and kindness. But what stands out most vividly in my memory was the influence, noticed by everyone who entered his room, of the vibrations of profound peace and intense divine love that emanated from him. The Divine Mother Herself — that aspect of the Infinite Spirit personified as the tender caring and compassion, the unconditional love, that is the salvation of the world — had taken complete possession of him, it seemed, and through him was sending out waves of love to embrace all of Her creation.
That evening, during a large reception in honor of the Ambassador of India, at which Paramahansaji was the principal speaker, the great Guru left his body for Omnipresence.
As with all those rare souls who have come on earth as saviors of humankind, Paramahansaji’s influence lives on after him. His followers regard him as a Premavatar, incarnation of God’s divine love. He came with God’s love to awaken hearts sleeping in forgetfulness of their Creator, and to offer a path of enlightenment to those already seeking. In reviewing the Gita manuscript, I felt anew in Paramahansaji’s commentaries the magnetism of divine love that ever calls to us to seek God, the Supreme Goal of every human soul, and that promises its sheltering presence all along the way.
I hear again and again, echoing in my own soul, Paramahansa Yogananda’s consummate Universal Prayer — the one that perhaps most characterizes the force behind his world mission and his inspiration in giving to us this enlightening revelation of the holy Bhagavad Gita:
Heavenly Father, Mother, Friend, Beloved God,
May Thy love shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion,
and may I be able to awaken Thy love in all hearts.
“A New Scripture Is Born”
From Sri Daya Mata’s Afterword to
God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita,
by Paramahansa Yogananda
One day, after many months of work on the Bhagavad Gita at the desert ashram, Paramahansa Yogananda was staying for a time at the Self-Realization Fellowship Hermitage by the ocean in Encinitas, California. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning; for many hours that night, he had been intensely concentrated on his Gita translation and commentary. Finally, he turned to the disciple who had been sitting silently nearby. “You have tonight been greatly blessed to witness the end of the work I came to fulfill. I have finished the Gita. That task was given to me, and I made a promise that I would write this Gita — and it is done. All the Great Ones [i.e., the SRF Gurus] have been here in this room tonight, and I have conversed with them in Spirit. My life now is conditioned by minutes, hours, days — maybe years, I don’t know; it is in Divine Mother’s hands. I am living only by Her grace.”
Paramahansaji then summoned other senior disciples, wishing to share with them the special blessings surrounding him in his work that night.
Later, alone in his bedroom, Paramahansaji’s divine experience had a wondrous sequel. He told us: “There was a light in the corner of the room. I thought it must be the morning rays coming in from an opening in the curtain; but as I watched it, the light grew brighter and expanded.” Humbly, almost inaudibly, he added: “Out of the brilliance, Sri Yukteswarji came with eyes of approval.” …
Years earlier, Sri Yukteswarji had told him: “You perceive all the truth of the Bhagavad Gita as you have heard the dialogue of Krishna and Arjuna as revealed to Vyasa. Go and give that revealed truth with your interpretations: a new scripture will be born.”
After many months and years of work on this manuscript, Paramahansaji now saw the fulfillment of his Guru’s prediction. Informing the disciples that his commentary on the Gita had been completed, with a joyous smile he humbly echoed what Sri Yukteswarji had told him, saying: “A new scripture is born.”
“I have written this Gita as it came to me,” he said, “as I was united in ecstasy with my great Gurus and the originators of the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita that has come through me belongs to them. And I know what my Master said: ‘A new Gita, hitherto only partially exposed through centuries in the many lights of various explanations, is coming out in its full effulgence to bathe all true devotees of the world.’”
God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda